Jackie Volbrecht had always hated the men that abandoned their families, compounding poverty be creating a single mom. She could not understand what could drive them from a home, what could allow them to leave their own children stranded in dereliction.
The Circles of Hope training Volbrecht attended on July 10 through 13 tried to break down this prejudice. Not to make Volbrecht sympathize with someone she despised, but to realize their motivations.
For an hour, Volbrecht was the patriarch for a struggling family — after four 15-minute “weeks” she did not leave her family, but thought about it.
Here was her imagined situation. Her wife was sick with breast cancer leaving her to be the sole financial supporter for her mother, 23-year-old drug-addicted son, 17-year-old daughter, and 8-year-old son on a pay check of $300 a week.
This would be hard enough until her older son gets picked up by 5-0 with a crack pipe in hands. His bail is $200 but she decides to leave him in the county lockup. One less mouth to feed.
Then grandma fell stepping of her porch and broke her leg. Volbrecht can’t miss work to take her to a doctor; if she is even a minute late she’ll be fired. She gives the task of driving grandma to the clinic to her 17-year-old daughter.
Suddenly, the long arm of the law stretches out again and picks up Volbrecht’s daughter, who was caught shoplifting at the mall. Volbrecht had to bail her out; someone has to take care of grandma who hasn’t recovered. The only thing is Volbrecht’s benevolent, sick wife guilt-tripped her to bail her son out, too.
With a wad of cash missing from her bank account, Volbrecht can’t pay the light bill and the electricity is shut off at the family’s apartment during an insufferably hot month.
A pawn shop is her next stop. Creature comforts like a computer and video games are traded in for quick cash, money to pay for utilities and food. There are a variety of pawn shops to choose from in this part of town, but every owner offers pennies on the dollar. She has no other choice and takes it.
With everyone at home, they drive Volbrecht crazy. She holds the purse strings as tight as she can, but there is always someone who wants more. At the end of the hour, Volbrecht feels her only refuge is work. She dreads going home. All she wants to do is find a fake bar and get fake plastered to forgot about every fake problem.
“What began as a game turned into experiencing the tyranny of the moment I’d been reading about,” Volbrecht said. “There’s nothing like that moment, for it repeats itself everyday for those in poverty.”
Volbrecht met four of those real people in Hesston. One woman earned an art therapy master’s degree, but she could not find a job and became homeless. Another woman was abandoned by her husband, left to support four children on her own; she quickly fell out of a comfortable suburban life and into a ghetto. One woman suffered from an illness. She could not work and became homeless.
The last speaker at the Circles of Hope training suffered from deep-seeded generational poverty. She remarked that she was jealous of classmates at school because they had socks and underwear.
What Circles of Hope does for these people is that is makes the connections that were not afforded to them by their upbringing.
Many people have a family, a church, a community to call on for help. Those four women, who talked to the group at the Circles training had no one.
The woman who suffered from generational poverty was connected to the president of the Newton Chamber of Commerce. With that ally — someone trustworthy to vouch for her — she got a job and she was connected to social services to help her pay rent and utilities.
People did not give her handouts but a deal was brokered through connections. The woman was helped so she could lift herself up. Now she returns that service by telling as many people as she can about Circles of Hope.
The architect for building these relationships in Marion County will be Jeremiah Lange. Lange was selected to be the coach for Circles of Marion County. If a Circle leader’s car breaks down, Lange can provide the trustworthy negotiating source between the person and the mechanic. The reason Lange was chosen is because he regularly performs this role already as the Pastor of Marion Presbyterian church.
Other roles have also been set for Marion County Circles. Volbrecht is the optimistic spokesman and was thus named as coordinator. Linda Ogden is assigned as the top recruiter for leaders. She worked with people in poverty everyday as the former director of Families and Communities Together.
Despite having some of the particulars established, Circles of Marion County is not ready to hold its first official meetings. For instance, there is still more ally training to do. Volbrecht had previously thought September was a possible meeting date, but is now thinking January is more realistic.
However, the movement has continued to attract new people. Susan Carlson of Burdick attended the most recent Mad About Poverty meeting on July 10. Also in attendance was Chad Adkins. He was there because he asked Lange what any one was doing to help people in Marion County and he immediately responded to the Circles pitch Lange delivered.
What excited Volbrecht more than anything, maybe more than helping people, is what those people can give back to the community — possible new business opportunities or services — when they have a well of new resources.
“They’re survivors, they’re creative,” Volbrecht said. “It’s phenomenal to think what could happen.”